Big Change in Finland Schools: No More 'Subjects'

Nation's highly regarded educators are switching to broader 'topics' instead
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2015 1:54 PM CDT

(Newser) – Finland's education system is generally considered among the best worldwide, but it's about to undergo a fundamental overhaul anyway—one that the Independent describes as among the most radical ever undertaken by any nation. It's doing away with individual subjects. Instead, students will learn about broader topics that encompass a variety of those subjects. The newspaper provides an example: Students might be taught about the topic of the European Union, a lesson that would fold in elements of history, geography, foreign languages, and economics. Finnish educators call it "phenomenon teaching," and it's being slowly phased in among older students, especially in Helsinki. It's expected to be standard practice at all schools by 2020.

“We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future," says Helsinki's education chief. The Washington Post notes that the idea is similar to one popularized in the US before World War II by John Dewey and later during the "open classrooms" movement. "When you teach subjects separate from one another—you teach science, you teach math, you teach reading—that means that there's a divorce between these contents, when in real life, they're not," says a Stanford expert. One reason the concept never caught on here, he adds, is that it requires teachers to be well-versed in multiple subjects. In Finland, the Post notes, teaching is competitive field that pays higher salaries than in the US. (Finland is also big on play and recess, and the latter can help kids eat a healthier diet.)

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